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Kazakhstan's Russians Don't Want Russian Language Downgraded

Kazakh Russian community leader Yury Bunakov
Kazakh Russian community leader Yury Bunakov
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Leaders of Kazakhstan's Russian community have criticized an open letter by Kazakh intellectuals calling for Russian to be stripped of its status as an official language, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The chairman of Kazakhstan's Association of Russian, Slavic, and Cossack Organizations, Yury Bunakov, and his deputy, Anatoly Chesnokov, said at a press conference in Almaty on October 13 that the appeal by 138 Kazakh intellectuals made public earlier this month has caused "extreme tension" in society.

Bunakov expressed concern that President Nursultan Nazarbaev has not made a statement regarding the letter.

Bunakov said Kazakhstan's Russian community has long supported the use of the Kazakh language and established courses for Russian speakers to learn it.

He said it is "difficult to understand the rationale" for removing Russian as an official language.

Akhmetzhan Shardinov, deputy chairman of the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, was present at the press conference.

He criticized Bunakov and Chesnokov, saying "it was not the president who raised the issue and therefore there is no need to politicize the situation."

The chairman of Kazakhstan's Turkish Cultural Center, Qazaqbai Qasymov, also criticized the leaders of the Russian community.

He said the current situation in Kazakhstan, in which almost everyone can speak Russian, reflects Nazarbaev's position on the issue.

Asyly Osman, chairwoman of Kazakhstan's Azerbaijani Cultural Center and a signatory to the open letter, asked Bunakov and Chesnokov why they are unable to hold their press conference in Kazakh if they respect the Kazakh language.

The Kazakh Constitution designates Kazakh as the state language and Russian an official language. Some 30 percent of Kazakhstan's population is ethnic Russian, and the Russian language is widely used in cities and towns.

Some prominent intellectuals who have been identified as signatories to the letter -- including Azat Peruashev, the leader of pro-presidential Aq Zhol (Bright Path) party; opposition Social Democratic Azat (Free) party co-chairman Bolat Abilov; and popular singer Bibigul Tolegenova -- have denied signing it.

Read more in Kazakh here